The Holy Spirit - Learning from Matthew
The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is ‘God with us’. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18,20). He is still ‘God with us’, when we are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a ‘virgin birth’. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, ‘This is the way it happened’ (Matthew 1:18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing - sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world - why should we doubt that God took things out of man's hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: ‘He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
Matthew 3 begins with ‘John the Baptist’ (Matthew 3:1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is ‘more powerful’ than ourselves (Matthew 3:11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, ‘Christ must increase, I must decrease’ (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in Matthew 3:11 - ‘ I baptize with water... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour - We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8).
Considering the contrast between Jesus and John - John is not fit to carry Christ’s sandals (Matthew 3:11) - , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in Matthew 3:15: ‘it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness’. When Jesus uses the word ‘proper’ (or fitting), does He use it to mean ‘according to convention’? No - He means that ‘it is fitting’ into God’s perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as ‘the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus’ baptism directs us to Pentecost - the descent of the Spirit (Matthew 3:16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus ‘fits’ our need perfectly!
God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (Matthew 3:17). Now, the devil challenges God’s Word: ‘If you are the Son of God...’ (Matthew 4:3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (Matthew 3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the ‘if you are...’ approach is just the same as his ‘Did God really say?’ method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is ‘crafty’ (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (Matthew 4:6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in Matthew 4:9 - he wants Jesus to ‘bow down and worship’ him. In Jesus’ victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture - ‘It is written’ (Matthew 4:4,7,10). We learn that true life comes from God (Matthew 4:4), true safety is found in God (Matthew 4:7); and true worship is given to God (Matthew 4:10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God’s Word: ‘every Word that comes from... God’ (Matthew 4:4).
Jesus says that we are not to be like ‘the hypocrites’ (Matthew 6:2,5,16). The word ‘hypocrite’ means ‘play actor’. It refers to ‘putting on a performance’. This performance may be extremely religious, but God is not in it. The hypocrites live according to ‘the letter’ of the law, but they know nothing of the power of ‘the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:6). The hypocrites’ religious performance gets along very well without God. His presence is not sought, welcomed or treasured. The hypocrites draw attention to themselves. They do not direct attention away from themselves to God. There is a better way than the way of hypocrisy. It is the way of holiness. Our lives are to be centred on Christ - ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). We must not forget: apart from Him we can do nothing. We are to abide in Him (John 15:5) - in true holiness.
Through the entrance of Christ's Word, we receive a new Spirit (Matthew 8:16; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Cleansed and healed, we are to live as Christ’s disciples. There is to be no half-heartedness: ‘I will follow you, Lord, but...’ (Luke 9:61). Yes, Lord!
The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) did not like what was happening, and they came up with their own explanation - ‘He casts out demons by the prince of demons’ (Matthew 9:34). Jesus gives us another, better, explanation: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...’ (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel. We are to bring the Gospel to other people. Jesus was 'teaching... preaching... and healing' (Matthew 9:35). What opportunities there are to bring the healing power of Christ into many hearts and homes! These opportunities will be missed if ‘the labourers’ remain ‘few’ (Matthew 9:37). Many are ‘harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). We must not fail them!
Jesus gave authority to His disciples (Matthew 10:1). He gives authority to us. It is the authority of the Word and the Spirit - ‘you will be given what to say’ by ‘the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’ (Matthew 10:20). Christ’s disciples were being trained for a great work to be done in the Name and the Power of the Lord (Matthew 28:18-20). If we are to communicate the Word in the power of the Spirit, we need to see our life as life in the Spirit and life under the Word. Scripture calls us to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18) and to ‘let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly’ (Colossians 3:16). To be filled with the Spirit is to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. To let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly is to be filled with the Spirit. We are to live in the power of the Spirit. We are to live in accordance with the Scriptures.
In John 16:8-11, Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit, convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. Before there can be conversion, there needs to be conviction of sin. None of us can come to the Saviour of sinners without first seeing ourselves as sinners who need the Saviour. God uses the warning of judgment to send us to the Saviour - there ‘will be...judgment’, so make sure that you ‘come’ to Christ for salvation (Matthew 11:24,28; Luke 3:7-8; Hebrews 2:3; 3:7-15). Before there can be growth in grace, there needs to be conversion. Before we can live a righteous life, learning from Christ (Matthew 11:29; 1 Peter 1:15-16), we must come to Christ for rest, being declared righteous by Him (Matthew 11:28; Romans 4:5-8). In Christ, we have salvation, set free from judgment - ‘no condemnation’ - and set free for righteousness - ‘living according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:1).
Opposition from the Pharisees was growing all the time (Matthew 12:24). Jesus had to rebuke them in very strong words (Matthew 12:30,32,34,36-37). This was not exactly a ‘How to win friends and influence people’ approach! Nevertheless, this was a time for strong words. Jesus’ ministry illustrates the principle: ‘a time to tear down and a time to build’ (Ecclesiastes 3:3). There was a time for ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (Mark 9:40). This was the time for ‘he who is not with me is against me’ (Matthew 12:30). There was a time for speaking of the Spirit as ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:16,26). This was the time for the warning about the ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’ (Matthew 12:31). The opposition was severe, but Jesus was victorious - He ‘drove out demons by the Spirit of God’, in Him ‘the Kingdom of God had come’ (Matthew 12:28). In Him, we are victorious (Romans 8:37; Revelation 12:11).
Jesus’ suffering is increasing. What pain His disciples caused Him. Three times, He ‘found them sleeping’ (Matthew 26:40-45), ‘My betrayer is at hand’ (Matthew 26:46), ‘all the disciples forsook Him and fled’ (Matthew 26:56)! Was this the end of the road for His disciples? No! With one exception - Judas Iscariot, whom Jesus still called ‘friend’ (50), the others became men of prayer (Acts 1:13-14). They stood with Peter as he preached the Gospel, as he led many sinners to the Saviour (Acts 2:14,37-38). Jesus loved His disciples. He died for them. Then - after Jesus was ‘glorified’ - the Spirit was ‘given’ to them (John 7:39). The fleeing disciples became men ‘on fire’ (Acts 2:3). No more ‘fleeing’. Now it was ‘flowing’ - ‘rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). ‘Blaze, Spirit blaze. Set our hearts on fire. Flow, river, flow. Flood the nations with grace and mercy’ (Mission Praise, 445).